Choose Your Own Adventure: Money Management

Did you ever read any Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child?  My brother & I read plenty of them in our grade school years.  They were imaginative and interactive books that let you travel to the bottom of the sea, be on the Titanic for its fateful voyage, or find a lost civilization.  Thinking back to these books, I thought that this would be a cool concept for teaching money management for children.  Before they enter the very real adventure as an adult, where you can't turn to the alternate page if you don't like the result of the decision prompt.

We currently only have one child, who is going on 6 months, so my wife & I still have a little bit before the day comes to impart our wisdom.  But that doesn't mean we are not being proactive in what we want to teach our daughter (and other future children) about money management.  No, I haven't created a “Choose Your Own Adventure: Money Management” book for her.  Although an app would probably be more 21st-century appropriate.

Why Teaching Money Management Is Important

I've expressed my thoughts on money management & financial literacy in the past.  I share some of the same concerns as other financial bloggers: lack of a thorough curriculum in schools, misunderstanding of credit cards & the long-term consequences of not making full payments, etc.

I think it's great that school systems are going to greater lengths to teach the esteemed class of 2015 or 2016 how to balance a checkbook & the power of a savings account.

However I still have three qualms:

  1. Families need to be teaching these life lessons, not just the schools. Teaching Money Management For Children
  2. Most households have a “spending” problem themselves
  3. Teenagers still don't fully grasp the concept that money doesn't grow on trees.

I will breakdown my thoughts on all three:

  1. Families need to be teaching these life lessons, not just the schools.

How much financial literacy will a child retain from an hour-long class for a semester?  My high school began teaching these classes after I had already graduated, although my younger brother had attended one of these classes.  He said it was useful, but common sense if you knew anything about managing money.  In college of my junior year, where we met I think once a week, we covered this topic for a day or two however the core premise of the class was to teach us how to write cover letters, resumes, and attend job fairs/interviews.

Here is a map of states that have personal finance education standards.  It is good to see that more states have stepped up to the plate in the last decade to address the issue of financial illiteracy.

I was blessed to have good parents who taught my brother & I valuable lessons, I know a number of people cannot express the same statement I just made.  My school memories are primarily the games we played at recess and history, plus some of the books we read for English class. I remember life lessons that were taught from my parents, like changing the oil, how to build a fire, and chores.

Financially, I paid my own car insurance (I was still listed on their policy for cheaper rates) & if I wanted a cell phone I needed to pay for my own plan.  It stunk at the time, when most of my high school classmates didn't pay a dime for either expense.  But it helped me learn the value of earning & saving money from an early age.

What am I getting at here?  I learned lots of useful “book” knowledge in school that has gotten me through life, but I learned practical “street knowledge” skills at home.  I consider money management & financial literacy to be something that is best remembered on the street.  Where you see the theory applied in real life.

I feel that you survive by being street smart & you thrive by being both street & book smart.

Here is an example of what I mean.  You can read about the colonial times (circa 1776) and how our lifestyles are drastically different thanks to modern technology.  Visit Colonial Williamsburg & you can see life recreated from that era.  How they used to print newspapers & made everything by hand.  Imagine for some reason we had to travel back in time to 1776 & you could only bring one person.  Would you bring a computer programmer or the person operating the mill at Colonial Williamsburg?

2. Most households have a “spending” problem themselves.

This is a semi-complex statement.  I feel that it's a shame that schools need to teach personal finance, but it is the most immediate response that the government & society can take I suppose.  Schools need to teach what a savings account is & how to balance a checkbook because a majority of households are not succeeding financially.

How can parents teach their own children to avoid debt & living paycheck to paycheck when their own lifestyle's do not reflect proper money management?  

These adults might be asking how do I jump off this runaway train?  They know they need to break the cycle but cannot because they don't know exactly how or are simply addicted to spending.  For too long, it has become almost expected that we “all keep up with the Joneses” and that causes a majority of people to live within or above their means, not live below their means.

3.  Teenagers & Young Adults still don't fully grasp the concept that money doesn't grow on trees.

I have two vivid memories to illustrate this point and they both revolve around college.

  1. Total cost of college.  I was deciding between two colleges that specialized in the profession I was pursuing.  The in-state college was approximately $50,000 for four years & the private college was $100,000+ depending on financial aid received.  Once my loans enter repayment status, I soon realized I was glad I chose the in-state option, especially after working alongside some people that took the more expensive route.
  2. Alumni donations. I went to my college 5-year reunion & the class having their 10 year reunion was with us as well.  The tradition at my school is that the class has a huge fundraising effort for the 10-year reunion.  I forget the dollar amount, but I want to say it was around $100,000.  Our graduating classes are only around 250 graduates.  Needless to say our eyes bulged & one of my classmates said “That's a lot of money especially 10 years out of college, we didn't think that was a lot while attending school but now that we are working that is a lot to donate & still pay the bills.”

You can teach about money all you want, but you need to experience money in real-life applications to fully understand it.

How Does This Relate To A “Choose Your Own Adventure” Book?Teaching Money Management For Children

Obviously what we are doing in North America currently isn't working.  Only time will tell how personal finance taught in the high schools will impact the financial state of the typical household.

There is lots of literature & resources that adults can read like Dave Ramsey & various counseling groups.

For children, we can teach them the basic tenets of budgeting using three different piggy banks for saving, charity, and spending.  Parents can also teach their children to pay bills & balance a checkbook.  You don't even need money, you can let them budget with their favorite snack.  Once it's gone they don't get anymore until next month or they can space out their snacks throughout the month.

My alternative idea with this post is creating a “Choose Your Own Adventure” where you can pretend to be an adult & get prompts that allow you to buy that sleek car or invest in a reliable dividend-paying stock.

For example, you turn to page 36 after buying your dream sports car and are shocked when you get the first bill for the auto loan but to make the payment you need to forego the monthly contribution to your vacation fund.  Turn to page 58 if you make your payment in full or flip to page 18 if you skip this month's payment.  For this example, let's pretend your child chooses not to make the payment.  Page 18 reads, “You skipped last month's car payment, this month your bill arrives and you have a late fee of $100.  You pay your bill to avoid a stiffer penalty next month, but have are unable to go on a last-minute weekend trip to the beach with your friends because you didn't have the extra cash this month.”

Okay maybe one of these books will be so boring that no child will think it is fun.  It might make them want to spend money to erase this horrible memory.  I'm just kidding about the last sentence, but if done creatively, this type of book can help make money fun for your child.

It would be cool if they had a grown-up book that indebted households could use to simulate hypothetical situations.  Plus if you are like me, you will peek into all the various endings & try to find the adventures that lead to them so that you can reach them.

Have you passed on any wisdom to anybody struggling financially?

Did you like these kinds of books as a child?

Thanks For Reading This Article,




Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.